Poland Abortion Rulings
“This idiotic ruling will not prevent abortions”, said Cezary Jasinski as he stood in front of the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland, the body responsible for passing abortion laws that are being described as inhumane in a country already known for having the most stringent and divisive laws on the subject; partly due to it being a highly Conservative Catholic nation.
History of Abortion Law in Poland
Abortion laws have always been a contentious issue in the State, as is quite evident from its tumultuous history on the subject. Poland's 1956 abortion law permitted abortion on demand without state control or reporting mechanisms. It has been estimated that this liberal law resulted in as many as 400,000 abortions in 1962 alone. After the Communist regime ended, a new law was passed in March 1993 to provide legal protection to "conceived children." This law allowed abortion only when the pregnancy constitutes a threat to the life or a serious threat to the health of the mother, the foetus is irreversibly damaged, or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. A law passed in October 1996 allowed women to request abortions for social reasons. The discussion surrounding the new law-which amount to a near total ban on the practice- has resulted in growing awareness that the foetus is a human being rather than a mass of tissue. This is backed by the fact that public opinion polls indicate that most Poles approve of abortions only in the cases indicated by the law and that only 42% of respondents also support availability of abortion for social reasons.
What is the Law?
The law effectively bans abortion in all forms- except in cases of incest or rape and when the mother’s life is in danger. This implies that the termination of irreversibly damaged foetuses has been declared unconstitutional which, ironically, accounts for the majority of abortions taking place in the country. This ruling is being termed as a blow to a country already known for having the strictest abortion laws. The law has been the handiwork of the Law and Justice Party of Poland which came to power in 2015. Apart from having highly orthodox policies, the party has also displayed a shift towards autocratic methods of governance. This can be gauged from the fact that the Tribunal which passed the law is reported to be compromised and under the influence of the ruling regime, an accusation denied by the latter but which nonetheless carries some semblance of truth.
The passing of the law sparked off nationwide protests- the largest the country has seen since the downfall of communism in 1989. People took to the streets overnight in an eruption of anger against the government- a movement which has now morphed into the broader issue of protection of civil liberties in a country increasingly marred by the threat of a looming fascist regime.
Protesters flouted Covid-19 restrictions and braved sub-zero temperatures to rally against this gross violation of human rights. The protests are being led by an organisation called Women’s Rights, which is encouraging the use of several symbols in order to amplify their voices, like-the use of a green hander kerchief around the neck which was the symbol of abortion rights activist in Argentina
“My body, my choice”, “The revolution has a uterus” and “You have blood on your hands” read some of the placards at the protest which have been going from strength to strength as more and more people are joining it with each passing day with the effect that the popularity of the ruling class has gone down drastically and it is under ever increasing threat of losing power in the upcoming elections
The law was originally passed in October but its implementation was put on hold after it received massive backlash from the public and Opposition alike. However, in a sudden and controversial step, it was published in Poland’s Journal of Laws, the last step on its route to becoming a law, on 27th January,2020.
Illegal Abortions- The ruling is expected to act as an impetus for resorting to alternative means of getting an abortion, all of which, in actual practice would be illegal. It would lead to women seeking underground abortions, moving abroad to get an abortion and in some cases abortions at home, automatically bringing down the so called “effectiveness” of the law and rendering it useless.
Women’s Rights- The law is being seen as a transgression in lieu of women’s rights. It has been termed as a “war against women” and accusations are vehemently being made against the authorities for passing a law that amounts to “torturing a woman and risking her life”.
Authoritarian Connotations- The ruling Law and Justice Party has been accused of having progressively authoritarian tendencies ever since it came into power 5 years ago. This ruling has been seen as part of a deeper conspiracy to turn the State back into a traditional Catholic one and curb the increasingly liberal values becoming popular with the new generation of citizens of the country.
Sources - CNN, The Guardian, New York Times
~ Meghna Singh